Sandia Crest Hike

The Sandia Crest Trail #130 is 3.25 miles round trip from the Crest to the Tram terminal, with an elevation change of 650 feet.

Saturday afternoon Richard and I drove up to the top of Sandia Mountain for a short hike along the Crest Trail, and perhaps some geocaches of opportunity.  It was a cloudy day; for much of the early afternoon the mountain was obscured by clouds and what appeared to be thundershowers.  However, the weather service was reporting cloudy skies — no rain — at the crest.  By mid-afternoon we could see the mountain top from the house, so off we went.

The road from the base of the mountain to Sandia Crest is 13 miles long and full of switchbacks like this one. Note that at this elevation we are above a cloud layer.

Richard is taking Driver’s Ed, and he had just gotten his Learner’s Permit a week earlier.  His first Controlled Driving lesson would be the the next day.  He was not comfortable driving on the freeway, but was excited to drive up the mountain.  Richard is a careful driver and went slowly.  I was not so much stressed out over his driving as by watching him stress out over all the switchbacks!



The valley to the west was covered by clouds, but to the east the valley floor was visible.

As we drove up about 3,00 – 4,000 feet, Richard commented that it would be fun to hike in the clouds we saw forming on the downhill side of the road.  His wish would be granted that day.



Visible from our house, Sandia Mountain presents an alpine habitat, very different from the riparian habitat of the Rio Grande valley, or the desert habitat further away from the river.

Elevation of Sandia Crest is 10,678 feet (3,255 m).  The entire Rio Grande valley was obscured by a cloud layer below us.  There was also a cloud layer above, lending a mystical aura to the woods. Mountain Chickadees were flitting through the trees.



During the winter the trail is used by cross-county skiers. Blue blazes mark the path.

Our objective was to hike down to the tram terminal and back.  We would also look for any geocaches along our route.  I had downloaded coordinates for geocaches in the area to my GPS unit before we left.  The Sandia peak area is popular for placing geocaches.  We saw there were several along the Crest Trail and we picked one to search for.



Below this limestone cliff, on the ledge, is supposed to be a geocache. Despite spending considerable time searching, we did not find it. Note the steep drop beyond the ledge, covered with fog.

Cresting a slight rise, we had our breath taken away by the sheer drop down the side of the mountain.  Gray clouds filled the unseen valley, but we knew the valley floor was 5,000 feet below.  20 feet down was a ledge — our GPS indicated the geocache was down there.

Carefully making the descent to the ledge — it was a good 10-15 feet wide, not dangerous but an adrenalin rush nevertheless — we spent quite some time hunting for the geocache.  The receiver and the clues said it should be right there, but the Force was not with us this day.  We eventually had to record a DNF (did not find).



Like something out of Lord of the Rings, tree roots seemed to be reaching out to grab the feet of unwary travelers.



In places the trail seemed to be paved with stones that had become jumbled by an earthquake.



A fence closes access to a mountain meadow so that it can regenerate after the stress of 300,000 visitors annually.

Mountain meadows are rare in the Sandias. The one along the Crest Trail was being worn out by 300,000 visitors per year. It is now closed to allow it to regenerate.



Trail leads to a mountain meadow. The meadow is closed to visitors to allow it to recover from overuse.

By this time it was after 7 PM, and I was worried about being caught in the woods after dark.  Abandoning the rest of the hike to the tram station, we turned around and started back up to the peak.  Not to worry, we made good time back to the trail head.

My birding skills have become rusty from disuse, but I'm pretty sure this is a Mountain Chickadee at lower center. (Click to enlarge.)

This little guy was scurrying about, but paused just long enough to get his portrait taken.

Shrouded in fog, the antenna farm at the top of Sandia Crest hosts transmitters for many Albuquerque area radio and TV stations.

Sandia Crest Hike at EveryTrail

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Corrales Bosque Preserve





A path points the way to the ditch-bank road in the Corrales Bosque Preserve. One has to park along the side of Mockingbird Lane, as there is no parking area here.


The road on either side of the ditch is for the purpose of maintaining the irrigation ditch, but it is heavily used for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The main ditch can be dammed, raising the water level and diverting water onto the fields of adjacent property owners for flood irrigation.

I spent the better part of a day biking in the Corrales Bosque Preserve. My intention was to start at the north end and bike to the south end and back. However, the gate to the parking area was closed so I looked for a different place to park, and found a spot at the end of Mockingbird Lane. This was about the middle of the trail. I first biked north to the Harvey Jones Flood Control Channel then to the south end at Alameda and back to my car. The Preserve is often closed during summer months, due to fire danger, and I wanted to make the ride before it was closed. Coincidentally, a wildfire broke out in the south end of the Preserve after my visit.



Expensive homes on large tracts back up to the bosque. Often these are horse farms.

Mockingbird Lane is not really a good parking area, but I found a place alongside the road to leave my car. After entering the Preserve, one must find a place to cross the irrigation canal. Once on the east side of the canal, one can ride along the top of the flood control levee until encountering one of the entrances into the bosque itself.


This bridge at Dixon Road provides access to firefighters should there be a fire in the bosque. It is not normally open for vehicle use by the public, though foot, horse, and bike traffic is welcome.

The trail wends its way through the riparian forest, with numerous side trails branching off. Old Cottonwood trees abound. The trail is essentially flat, but visibility can be limited in places. Portions of the trail are sandy, making for strenuous biking. I took a side trail to the river bank, which turned out to be so sandy I had to push my bike back to the main trail and firmer ground.



The trail in the bosque goes through relatively open areas like the one shown, as well as patches of forest. Recently much of the underbrush and non-native species at the south end of the Preserve have been cut to reduce the fuel load in case of fire.

On this visit, the Harvey Jones channel had water at its Rio Grande terminal. Normally it is dry and one can cross the channel, continuing north on the trail. I considered going along the channel west to Corrales Road, crossing the channel, and going further, but there is a fence with no gate and signs to keep people out, so I elected to turn around.



Portions of the trail are sandy and can be a challenge for bikers.

Corrales was originally a swamp. It’s name derives from the fact that during the Spanish Land Grant days, the owner kept extensive horse corrals in the valley. Eventually a drainage ditch was dug that facilitated settlement and farming. Later, a series of irrigation canals were constructed so that agriculture could be done further from the river. In 1904 a devastating flood wiped out most of Corrales. In the 1950′s a levee system was built along the Rio Grande in the Albuquerque area to help control flooding. The 11 mile levee in Corrales was rebuilt by the Corps of Engineers in 1997.



Visibility can be limited on the portions of the trail that go through wooded patches. Experienced bikers like to go fast on this trail, but I took it at a more sedate pace.

The Corrales Bosque Preserve is a good place for birding. It is located on the central Rio Grande flyway, so many migratory species can be seen. I’m more of a novice birder myself, but I enjoy identifying birds when I can. The temporary marsh at the end of the flood control channel was being enjoyed by Mallard Ducks, Canada Geese, and a Snowy Egret. A Belted Kingfisher cackled as he flew along the channel. Later, further south, I saw a Kingfisher flying along the irrigation canal. The Belted Kingfisher often patrols along his territory, flying from one observation post to the next, so perhaps this was the same individual, though the sightings were several miles apart.



In drier weather one can bike across this area, and continue following the trail on the other side. This photo is looking back at the trail to the south, from the mouth of the Harvey Jones Channel. Note the Snowy Egret in the center (click to enlarge). The Rio Grande is beyond the trees at the top of the photo.

On a whim, I went looking for a nearby geocache. Although I located the proper tree, I had to read the hint before I found it. It’s amazing that a small object 1/2 inch by 2 inches can be located in the woods! Later, I found a second geocache along the trail. The trail is full of geocaches, but my goal was to ride the trail from end to end, so I did not spend much time looking for hidden treasure.



The majestic Cottonwoods in the preserve are at risk. As mature trees die, they would normally be replaced by seedlings. Cottonwood seeds need to be immersed in water and lie in a moist environment to germinate, but dams along the Rio Grande have all but eliminated the annual floods that facilitate Cottonwood germination.



Several side trails lead to the bank of the Rio Grande. During the spring there is much water due to snow melt and rains. Later in the summer the water level will be lower.

This geocache was located in a Salt Cedar tree. It’s a pretty tree, and was introduced as an ornamental in the 1800′s. From the State of Washington Department of Ecology website:

As an aggressive colonizer that is able to survive in a wide variety of habitats, saltcedar often forms monotypic stands, replacing willows, cottonwoods and other native riparian vegetation. … Infestations also have detrimental impacts on wildlife. Saltcedar seeds have almost no protein and are too small to be eaten by most animals. … In their study of habitat use by birds along the lower Colorado River, Anderson and Ohmart (1977) found that saltcedar stands supported only four species per hundred acres, as opposed to 154 species per hundred acres of native vegetation.



At the south end of the Corrales Bosque Preserve is a parking area, accessed from Alameda boulevard (seen in the background). A more accessible parking area is on the east side of the river.

On the south end the trail pops out of the woods onto the levee. From there it is a short distance to the parking area along Alameda. One could continue across the Rio Grande on the old Alameda bridge, and under Alameda to the Open Space parking area. I’ve done that many times when biking to work, but today I elected to cross the footbridge and return to my car along the west side of the Corrales drainage canal.



Someone has placed planks to create a footbridge across Corrales Drain, also known as the Clear Ditch. The flood control levee is on the right. Note the vertical pipe, part of the system to drain water and control erosion of the levee. Sandia Mountain is in the background.

Drainage and irrigation canals took me further from the river and eventually my way was blocked by the Cabezon Channel. After some backtracking I was back on the ditch-bank road, on the west side of the ditch. This road is very sandy and soft due to horse travel and I was quite tired from powering through the sand by the time I got back to the car. Perhaps the east side of the ditch would have been a better choice?



I got a phone call from a friend. "Where are you?", he asked, having heard on the news that Corrales was being evacuated. About 150 people had been evacuated to the Rec Center, which was between my home and the fire. There was never any danger at my house.

Later in the day a wildfire broke out in the south end of the Corrales bosque. It was quite dramatic, and several residences were evacuated. About 40 acres were burned, but no injuries were sustained and no homes were lost.

Related Links

Bosque Bill has created an interactive web page for the trail in the Corrales Bosque Preserve.

Linda Lupowitz has written a nice essay about the Bosque, with emphasis on the effects clearing underbrush and deadfall.

The New Mexico Department of Tourism has a writeup on the Corrales Scenic Byway.

Map & Photos

Click on the link to EveryTrail for an interactive slide show of all the photos I took on the bike ride. Photos are even placed at the location they were taken.  On the map below, you can mouse over and click on the dots that represent photo locations.
Corrales Bosque Preserve at EveryTrail